Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
MONDAY 4 MARCH 2002
60. Can I just seek a point of clarification.
When you are talking about the use of the £64 million, do
I get the impression that you are going to ask specialist recyclers
to actually do the dismantling and run the process that you described
a moment ago of recycling the fridges? You are not suggesting
that the £64 million is going to be spent by local authorities
setting up lots of plants to do this job, are you?
(Cllr Twitchen) No. The local authorities will not
do it, it will be the waste industry that does it and we will
buy in the services.
61. This scheme that Dixons have proposed which
is that local authorities should bid for lead authority status
in their region and the lead authority would take up the responsibility
for the reprocessing, what is your view of this proposal?
(Cllr Twitchen) There were two schemes put out. The
first one I thought sounded quite good but the second one I could
not understand, it was quite complicated. Ian?
(Mr Fielding) To be perfectly honest, I am not sure
I fully understand it but
62. If you stay long enough somebody will explain
it from Dixons, I am sure.
(Mr Fielding) The lead authority approach is being
proposed in conjunction with another one based on the use of recycling
credits. To have a lead authority, as I understand it, means that
it would be on a voluntary basis. Without detailed knowledge of
what is being proposed I find it difficult to understand anyone
volunteering to take on more of a problem than they have already
got unless there are some significant advantages in doing that.
As I say, I do not know all the details. The other scheme to do
with recycling credits is one that I know more about and I find
more comfort in, not because it is recycling credits because personally
I do not agree with recycling credits and the organisation I referred
to earlier lobby against them, but by the by the use of recycling
credits might be a way of bringing finance back to the retailers'
scheme through local authorities to help undertake that. I referred
to earlier discussions and in fact there was a proposal at that
meeting I referred to on 14 September last year that recycling
credits be explored and it is still, I believe, the right option.
63. Are either of those schemes going anywhere?
Is anything being done or have they just been put on the table
(Cllr Twitchen) They are out for consultation at the
moment with local authorities. We are working very, very actively
with Michael Meacher and DEFRA to try and work out a protocol
and that work is going on on a daily basis but it is not easy.
One thing that I think is a priority is that members of the public
should be restored to a situation where if they buy a new fridge
the old one disappears. It used to be taken out of the door by
the man who brought the new one in. I think the public are very
confused by all this and whatever we do we need to get back to
that situation so you get stability as far as the public are concerned.
The buck will stop with the local authorities. We are going to
have to accept responsibility as waste disposal authorities for
the disposal because they are household waste. It is what happens
in between that, how do we get it from the house back into the
hands of the local authority in an economic and environmentally
sustainable way. We are also trying to factor back into the system
the capacity for the refurbishers to cherry pick the fridges because
one thing that we have glossed over is that under the old system
people like Remploy could come in at some stage in the process
and take the good ones away to their workshops, refurbish them,
tart them up a bit and sell them. It was cheap, reliable appliances
for people who could not afford to buy new and it was also a very
good training programme in certain areas of the country. That
has all been lost and that is something we are trying to get back
into the system. I hope that the retailers will take back the
fridges from the people who buy new and on their way to the local
authorities there will be an opportunity for the refurbish people
to get back into the game. The final storage and disposal is going
to be the responsibility of local authorities, we all accept that.
The challenge is to find a way of managing it which keeps track
of it which makes sure that none of them disappear out of the
system for inappropriate disposal and also make sure that the
payments reach the person who has had to bear the cost.
64. The local authorities are responsible for
collection or whatever, for final receipt in their area, but does
the idea of a lead authority for final disposal have any attraction
to local authorities? Would people come forward as lead authorities?
(Cllr Twitchen) We are out for consultation, we have
not got the responses back. I can only speak of my impression
from the people I have spoken to, which is we are asking local
authorities to come forward and volunteer to be the lead but why
the heck should they?
65. Could they make money out of it?
(Cllr Twitchen) Yes, maybe, but where is the money
going to come from? There is only one place it can come from and
that is the Government or the Council Tax payer and most waste
disposal authorities, which are generally speaking the counties
and the groups of the Met, would be the right vehicle to be the
lead authority. We have sent all of this out to every local authority
in the country with a very tight timescale but we have not yet
had their responses back so we cannot tell you what they think
66. This lead authority scheme from Dixons,
do you not think it is a bit of a cheek really for them to come
forward with this? In the past you said quite rightly that people
went out, they bought a new fridge and the old one was taken back
by the retailer. That quickly went out of the door in November/December
when they realised what it was going to mean and now they are
saying "we have got this bright scheme, local authorities,
how you can deal with it because we are walking out backwards".
You said the money has to come from somewhere, from local authorities
or Government, but why can it not come from the industry? Why
have they walked out on this? Previously they were happy to flog
somebody a new fridge out of Currys, Dixons or whatever and now
they do not want to touch them, do they?
(Cllr Twitchen) I regarded the activity of take-back
as part of their advertising/promotion budget. It was one of the
things that got people through the door, so it does seem unfortunate
that now all the responsibility is falling back on the taxpayer.
That is the limit of the comment I would like to make on that,
if you will allow me.
67. You mentioned the fridge disposal equipment
that will be operating in June.
(Cllr Twitchen) Two plants should be operating by
June, an EMR one which is in North London and Sims Metals on the
South Coast. I might have got them the wrong way round.
68. Why has it taken so long to set them up?
(Cllr Twitchen) It is very quick. These guys had the
appropriate sites with the right transport infrastructure and
so on but they have got to get the plant from Germany, it is not
made in this country, and get it assembled and the factory built
and all the stuff up and running and it has got to be licensed
by the Environment Agency. The specification for the plant has
only been issued by DEFRA in the last few weeks. I think it is
quite good really that they are doing it that quickly.
69. Can local authorities do anything to speed
(Cllr Twitchen) Local authorities can issue planning
consents. If a plant needs planning permission, that is one way
that local authorities can try and make sure that there are no
delays within the planning system. I would not talk about escalating
it because the planning system is a legal system in this country
and it needs to be adhered to, but we can try and make sure there
are no unnecessary delays.
70. That is two plants. Are there going to be
(Cllr Twitchen) We will need about eight. A static
plant has a 300,000 unit per year capacity, so we need about eight.
Three eights are 24, that is 2.4 million. There is also some talk
about bringing mobile plants over but I have to say to you that
that is a slight red herring because the volumes that they deal
with are quite small. They use them in Sweden and Norway in outlying
remote towns and they take the plant there, run it for a few days
to get rid of all the fridges and then move on to the next one.
In terms of a country like the UK it is going to be a very, very
marginal input. I estimate we need eight of these big plants.
71. Even with eight how long will it take to
clear the mountain?
(Cllr Twitchen) Probably a year or two.
Mr Mitchell: Eight will deal with the two million
fridges and there is a backlog that you have got to catch up on.
72. I have a quick point on existing capacity.
I understand that there is existing capacity in Southampton which
is a high temperature incinerater which burns the insulate within
the fridges. That is what it does and it may be cruder than the
ones we have seen in Germany. Do you know whether or not local
authorities are making full use of that existing limited capacity?
(Cllr Twitchen) No, I do not. I do know it is expensive
and the capacity at Ellesmere Port is 5,000 units and the capacity
at Fawley is 3,000, so that is 8,000 units, so this is not a significant
volume in terms of the total capacity that is needed. I do not
know for certain whether any local authorities have taken it up
but I do know it is expensive. It may be that they are waiting
for something that is more cost-effective to be available.
73. It might be more expensive than the storage
(Cllr Twitchen) Yes, more expensive than storage and
ultimate disposal within the UK.
(Mr Fielding) Southampton is within our area, not
Southampton as a unitary authority but the Fawley plant is in
our area. We have so far resisted any contract arrangements for
the disposal of fridges pending notification on the funding. We
simply do not know how much money we are going to get and we have
not got any yet either. The view we have taken so far is that
we will store and minimise our costs for a limited period and
keep the situation under review. Having said that, we were made
aware of another option for export last week which we are now
pursuing because it is significantly cheaper than the prices we
have been quoted for processing in the UK.
74. You mentioned Germany twice. Why are they
better and more advanced in Germany than here?
(Cllr Twitchen) The German Government brought in this
legislation, I understand, some years ago. German waste management
practice has been to adopt this system for some time, so they
have already got the kit up and running. There is also a fair
amount of importing into Germany from other mainland European
countries. It is an industry, it is part of their recycling industry.
75. It is not just Germany, it is Germany, Austria,
Sweden. It does make us look a bit look the "dirty man in
Europe", does it not?
(Cllr Twitchen) There are plenty of other countries
76. Germany, Austria, Sweden.
(Cllr Twitchen) Yes, but there are other European
countries that are not getting to grips with the situation in
the way that we are, so I do not think that we should be ashamed.
We have got a bit of catching up to do but we do recognise it
now and we are catching up. I think the British waste industry
will be putting plants in that we can be proud of in terms of
the environmental impact.
77. Whose fault was this cock-up or fiasco?
Where would you point the finger of blame?
(Cllr Twitchen) Substantially with the
Government, but not entirely. A lot of us can learn some lessons
from this. I have to say I think it was substantially DEFRA's/the
Government's responsibility to understand the implications. Even
those of us who knew about the Regulation did not fully understand
the implications. It has been a very steep learning curve and
the one thing I hope and I believe that we can learn from this
is that we all need to be more aware of the potential for these
problems and this must not happen again. We must understand what
is in the pipeline in terms of environmental or any other legislation
and see these problems coming and deal with them appropriately
in good time.
78. Germany, Austria and elsewhere, their governments
could see this coming, they understood the regulations and our
Government did not understand the regulations. They signed up
for something where they did not know the consequences?
(Cllr Twitchen) I suppose so, yes.
79. Can I ask you one small but important point.
In the conclusion of your evidence you say: "Most civic amenity
sites are not licensed to take hazardous wastes, and will therefore
require licence modification." What is involved in that because
I presume if somebody with more fridges turn up at a civic amenity
sites, somebody might say, "Hang on a minute, we cannot have
these there." What needs to be sorted out there and who does
(Cllr Twitchen) The Environment Agency are responsible
for the licensing regime in waste management. The fact they are
allowing reasonable numbers of fridges to be taken from households
on a day-by-day basis is an example of how they are being reasonable
80. Perhaps, Mr Fielding, you can help us. Are
they monitoring already the way the safe storage of refrigerators
is being carried out?
(Ms Walters) Yes, we have had inspections from the
Chairman: Thank you both very much indeed. If
there is anything further that you wanted to put before the Committee,
particularly in written form, please do not hesitate to write
to us. Mr Fielding, you are going to send us some copies of correspondence.
We look forward to receiving that. The one thing we cannot do
is undo anything you have said that you might subsequently wish
to take back or retract. Thank you both very much indeed for coming
to the Committee. When you have vacated the chairs and we have
changed the names we can have the retailers who will supply all
the answers to the questions that you posed and one or two that
we pose as well. Thank you very much.